Helsinki Commission Leaders Welcome Release of Khadija Ismayilova

Following yesterday’s announcement that the Azerbaijani government has freed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from prison, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following statement:

“We welcome the release of Khadija Ismayilova from her unjust imprisonment. However, we call on the Government of Azerbaijan to drop all charges against her and reopen the RFE/RL Baku bureau.

“Khadija’s case is not the only one in which Azerbaijan has used its judicial system to punish those who have voiced independent opinions. Others, like opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov, remain jailed for their efforts to promote human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. We salute their courage and once again urge the Government of Azerbaijan to live up to its OSCE commitments, ending its repression of the political opposition, journalists, and religious minorities.”

Chairman Smith convened a December 2015 hearing on the plight of Ismayilova and her fellow prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan. He is also the author of the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 (H.R. 4264), a bill he introduced to draw attention to the systematic efforts of the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups. 

In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections.

Chairman Smith has also spoken out on multiple occasions on behalf of Ismayilova and other political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

New York Times Editorial Board Highlights “Foreign Journalists Under Fire” in Turkey, Azerbaijan


September 10, 2015

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

On Sunday,
September 6, the New York Times
Editorial Board wrote a rebuke of three countries in the world whose
governments have intimidated, beaten, prosecuted, and imprisoned journalists
all in an effort to silence the freedom of the press. In addition to Egypt,
Turkey and Azerbaijan were rightfully called out for their anti-democratic

“On Tuesday,
in Azerbaijan, an award-winning investigative journalist was not allowed to
finish her closing statement before a judge sentenced her to more than seven
years in prison.


in Turkey, meanwhile, took three journalists from VICE news, a media company,
into custody last weekend, claiming, spuriously, that the journalists were
aiding the Islamic State. Later in the week, police officers raided the office
of another company that owns news outlets.


“These efforts
by governments to silence journalists are having a profoundly corrosive effect
on journalism at a time when strong news gathering is sorely needed.”

It is
refreshing to hear the NYT Editorial Board continually call for “a more robust
response from the international community.” Indeed, such calls were registered by
the Times when RFE/RL reporter Khadija Ismayilova was first arrested in Azerbaijan
10 months ago. The Times went even
further when they published Ismayilova’s jail-penned letter to the editor this

While Turkey
is less frequently criticized in major publications, the New York Times did identify
“Mr. Erdogan’s paranoid bullying” following a wave of mass arrests of
journalists and new laws restricting public access to the Internet late last
year. “Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to stifle criticism and dissent show an
authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe,” the Times wrote in December.

In 2013,
Turkey surpassed Iran and China as the world’s number one imprisoner of
journalists, a title that it retains today.

the NYT is correct to assert this week that “World leaders, meanwhile, should
do more than issue paltry statements expressing ‘grave concern.’ They should
raise hell.”

The question
is, will world leaders, particularly here in the United States, heed these calls,
or will the Turkish and Azerbaijani government’s assault on independent
journalism continue to get worse?